EDITOR’S NOTE: This post includes excerpts from an article written by Judith Prieve that appeared in the April 20, 2020, issue of the East Bay Times based in Walnut Creek, California, and used here by permission. The full original article can be found here.
Sheltering in place has taken spring cleaning to a new level, inspiring the homebound to dig really deep into long-cluttered closets, spare rooms and garages. But what nonprofits and thrift stores like Goodwill don’t want them to do is drop off those unused clothes, old appliances, discarded toys, faded couches, and other home goods at their sites, which are nearly all shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although all of Goodwill Industries’ retail stores have been closed in the Bay Area, they and other nonprofit thrift stores have seen an uptick in dumped donations. And that’s causing headaches because the few workers who aren’t on furlough have to drive around to all the stores to sort through the pileups.
“We have seen members of the public donation dumping at about 25 to 50 percent of Goodwills across the country,” said Lauren Lawson-Zilai, senior director of public relations at Goodwill Industries International. “Many Goodwills are running campaigns asking people to hold onto their donations until they open again, so they get the best use out of it.”
Some evidence suggests coronavirus germs could linger on certain surfaces for two to three days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
Michael Keenan, CEO of Greater East Bay Goodwill Industries, said after seeing an initial surge in donations, he’s noticed that more people now seem to be adhering to requests to not drop off items, though there are exceptions. “Two things are happening—some are still dropping off donations, but some are just dropping off things that they don’t want,” he said. “So, the homeless are going through it. What remains is stuff that has to be thrown away. Even if it looks like a great donation, we still have to treat it as if it is contaminated.”
When pileups are found, workers equipped with protective gear have to haul the goods to the dump, which runs counter to the nonprofit’s goals to recycle or reuse whenever possible, Keenan said. Before the pandemic, “very little of what we get goes into the landfill,” he said, adding that what donations didn’t sell at stores were sold by the pound to salvagers.
“We are also an environmental steward,” Keenan said. “We kept over 12 million pounds of products from going into the landfill. We have a lot of resellers—it’s an important thing a lot of people don’t understand. Not only are we helping people get jobs (at thrift stores) but we are also helping the environment.”
Cleaning out the dumped goods means extra expenses for Goodwill, which operates on donation sales alone, but they believe it’s money well-spent. “It does cost us—we have no income being generated in doing this,” Keenan said. “But we want to be the good community player. We are taking on the responsibility of keeping our stores as clean as we can.”
Keenan acknowledged that reopening some of the thrift shops could raise other questions, however, such as whether there is an essential need for residents to venture out to drop off donations. “Goodwills’ through the United States have a donation problem,” Keenan said. “Customers continue to donate, and we are all facing the same problems, but we just have different ways of going about (handling) it.”